Biggest opposition party remains divided, scarred by past
Voter anger stokes emergence of alternatives to main parties
Samuel Okunola shares the frustration of many Nigerians with the man he voted for three years ago, President Muhammadu Buhari. The 52-year-old tailor no longer feels he can support him in elections next year, but he doesn’t see an alternative.
“If the opposition was organized, they would’ve been able to deliver a killer blow to this government,” said Cheta Nwanze, an analyst at Lagos-based business advisory SBM Intelligence. “No party seems poised to do so at the moment.”
Part of the PDP’s challenge is that it ran Nigeria since the end of military rule in 1999 until its defeat three years ago and left behind most of the seemingly intractable problems that the Buhari administration now faces.
“The PDP’s main problem is that it has not been able to shake the perception of a fundamentally corrupt party built on rent-seeking,” said Amaka Anku, head of Eurasia Group’s Africa Practice.
PDP spokesman Kola Ologbondiyan said the party is meeting with voters across the nation and is confident that it will win support.
“We are lucky that Nigerians have seen through the lie of the APC and they are rallying to the People’s Democratic Party,” he said by phone on Monday. “A lot of the efforts the People’s Democratic Party are making today are still in the background.”
New movements have emerged in recent months that reject both main parties. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo is touting the Coalition for Nigeria, the Nigerian Intervention Movement is headed by human-rights lawyer Olisa Agbakoba, and the Red Card Movement is led by Obiageli Ezekwesili, a former minister and ex-vice president of the World Bank.
“I don’t think analysts realize the depth of dissatisfaction citizens out there on the streets have with the political class in our country,” Ezekwesili said by phone on Sunday. “The disappointment as a result of the dismal performance is very, very deep.”
Yet for a so-called third force to organize a successful campaign across 36 states is a tall order.
“It doesn’t seem other opposition parties have developed the necessary mechanisms at a national level to contest the dominance of these two parties for the time being,” said Imad Mesdoua of London-based Control Risks Group.
So the vote may be a straight fight between the PDP and the APC. The PDP will probably choose a Muslim northerner, someone like Buhari, as its candidate. That would be a bid to splinter the regional vote that went to Buhari in block vote in the last contest when he faced Goodluck Jonathan, who’s from the mainly Christian south. Parties have until Oct. 7 to nominate their candidates, according to Nigeria’s election body.
“Since 2015, there hasn’t been any consensual, charismatic or national-appeal figure within the PDP that’s emerged as the leader of the party,” Mesdoua said. “But there’s still time for this to happen.”